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Dementia: Know the Warning Signs

3308Millions of people are affected by dementia-related illnesses and the numbers appear to be growing. So it is not surprising that many older adults worry about developing dementia.

Some memory loss is a normal part of aging but how do you know when the changes are normal or early signs of dementia?

The Difference Between Age Related Changes and Dementia

It is normal to occasionally forget someone’s name, task, or an event or even have trouble finding the right word. It is also normal to forget details of an event that occurred a year ago.

Dementia on the other hand will cause symptoms that interfere with the ability to complete daily tasks. It is a loss of mental abilities, such as thinking, reasoning, learning, and understanding. These symptoms should never be ignored.

Don’t Ignore These Early Symptoms

You should contact your doctor right away if you or a loved one has the following early symptoms that point to dementia:

  • Memory loss that impacts daily life, such as forgetting important events
  • Problem solving difficulty, such as struggling to keep track of monthly bills
  • Difficulty completing daily tasks, such as driving somewhere familiar
  • Losing track of time and place, such as forgetting where you are in the present moment
  • Vision problems, such as problems judging distance
  • Language problems, such as difficulty following a conversation
  • Misplacing items and putting them in unusual places
  • Poor judgement, such as falling victim to phone scams
  • Withdrawal from activities and hobbies
  • Changes in mood and personality, such as being confused or suspicious

Decreasing Symptoms and Slowing Disease Progression

There is no cure for dementia. However, there are treatments available that can help decrease the symptoms of dementia and slow its course, including.

Medication

Some medication may help to decrease the symptoms of dementia or slow its course. Examples include cholinesterase inhibitors and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists. Psychiatric medications may also be advised for conditions occurring with dementia, such as depression or anxiety. Other treatments are also being studied.

Support

It is vital that people with dementia have support systems in place. During first stages, support groups may help those that are affected. Later support may be needed to:

  • Keep the home safe.
  • Provide a calm, quiet, and predictable environment.
  • Provide physical and occupational therapy.
  • Encourage regular physical and cognitive activity.
  • Encourage a healthful diet.
  • Act as a healthcare proxy and legal power of attorney.

If you or a loved one is showing signs of dementia, it is important to seek medical care right away. While nothing can cure dementia, treatments can slow the progression of the disease and extend quality of life.

RESOURCES:

Alzheimer’s Association
http://www.alz.org

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s Association website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/10-signs-symptoms-alzheimers-dementia.asp. Accessed May 1, 2017.

Alzheimer dementia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114193/Alzheimer-dementia. Updated February 10, 2017. Accessed May 1, 2017.

What is dementia? Alzheimer’s Association website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp. Accessed May 1, 2017.

Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP